• In our last blog, we gave our assessment of the Catholic population figures published by the Catholic Directory, along with a comparisonof those reported by dioceses to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and those published in their own diocesan directories.

In this second part of the assessment we start with our conclusions, and then consider the evidence – the Catholic Directory’s statistics of Mass attendance, baptisms, marriages and receptions, diocese by diocese, and compare them with the figures they sent to the Secretariat of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, and those they published in their own diocesan directories for 2014.


            Our first remark must be a welcome to the re-instatement of statistical tables that the CD started publishing in its 1913 edition. For the overwhelming majority of the Catholic community, laity and priests alike, for the media, academia, central and local Government, and voluntary bodies, there is no regular national source of statistical data about the Catholic community in England & Wales. Other Episcopal Conferences across the world – Germany, Korea, Netherlands, the USA, and many more - publish excellent comprehensive statistics, demographic as well as pastoral, that have been prepared professionally and are used extensively in the study of the evangelistic activity of the People of God and the institutional church. The Catholic Bishops Conference has never done so. And – given the unreliability and highly variable quality of the statistics reported annually by dioceses to the CBC – it would be wise to refrain from publishing the annual CBC summary until effective action has been taken to improve the quality of almost all the statistics sent by dioceses to the CBC.

Once the CBC’s annual collation of the diocesan figures begins to deserve respect as a

truthful account of the evangelistic activityof the Church, the specific problem of the publication of very restricted data in the Catholic Directory can be addressed. This can be done very simply by preparing and publishing provisional figures in one edition of the CD, and revised figures in the following edition. Many years ago the CD did in fact publish two pairs of tables, one with the latest figures, and the other with the previous year’s. But it was quite pointless as the previous year’s figures were never revised: they were exactly the same as those already published.

 In April, 2013, the PRC offered to prepare for the editor a table of provisional 2012 figures for publication in the 2014 edition of the CD. Nineteen dioceses sent their detailed statistics to the CBC Secretariat in good time, but three did not. On 15 September we advised the editor that the table of provisional 2012 statistics was almost ready, sent her the incomplete table and asked what the deadline now was. The same day she replied that “we are actually at the deadline for submissions. The [CD] goes to print no later than 15 October, by which time all the proof-reading has to be finished.” The following day the CBC Secretariat sent the PRC the last three sets of figures. These took a little time to assess. The table of provisional figures was completed, but having missed the publisher’s deadline the table was put aside until, one by one, the 2014 diocesan yearbooks were published and the 2012 figures were revised, as set out in the  Population Statistics 2011-2012 (6th Edition)

It took three months, from 15 October to mid-January, for the publishers to print and bind the 2014 edition. Yet in that time they seem to have had second thoughts about omitting a statistics table, and decided to do the DIY version that has been assessed above. It reveals all the amateurish incompetence that Zbyszewski complained of 66 years ago.

Further reflections

            After sixty years working on the pastoral and demographic statistics of the Catholic community of England & Wales, I am struck by the narrow focus of the pastoral statistics form prescribed by the CBC. The Jesus of the Gospels emphasised the two Great  Commandments. The focus of the form that every PP has to complete each year for his bishop is almost exclusively on the First Great Commandment. As members of the Church’s clericalised elite, priests and bishops are preoccupied with ‘churchy’ things: sacraments, liturgy, ritual, churches and their decoration and maintenance. The laity are not. Most of them are focused on the Second Great Commandment, trying to love their neighbours – their nuclear and extended families, the people next door, those they work with, meet in the street, or when travelling, shopping, or on recreation.

The pastoral statistics form somehow overlooks the Second Great Commandment. Much public attention was give to the Archbishop of Westminster’s account of what his priests told him about poverty in their parishes; and the media immediately focused, not on asking what Catholic parishes were doing about it, but on the network of foodbanks set up by the Thrussell Trust. Might it not be illuminating if the CBC were to ask PPs to report on whether their churches are collection points for foodbanks, and for the clothing collections of the Salvation Army? And how much does each parish collect for CAFOD, for the SVP and local charities? How many parishioners do regular voluntary work in the community? How many provide caring services for the elderly and the disabled, crèches for toddlers, and babysitting services? How many are hospital visitors, or visit those who are housebound? How many provide foster care for children and young people? Asking the right questions, and dealing with the answers, requires professional skills. In the 1950s the Newman Demographic Survey had no difficulty at all in gathering together large numbers of volunteers who had these skills. The CBC manifestly cannot and does not. Might the Newman Association consider creating another NDS for the 21st century?                                

Estimated weekly Mass attendance                                                            

            This is mis-described. It is supposedly the average of the (counted) attendance at all Masses in churches and chapels of the parish over the first four weekends of October. In fact, not all dioceses take the count on all four Sundays, and one or two don’t take the count/s in October. But at least all 22 dioceses supplied a figure to the CD, so that its national totals can be computed - 848,960, remarkably close to the total of the revised PRC rounded estimates, 849,300. But the devil is in the detail.

            Just why PPs are required to report attendance over four weekends in the same month has always been a mystery. Four counts at different seasons of the year would be very illuminating, but the CBC is not interested. In the Netherlands three counts a year are taken, including Easter and Christmas and they throw a very different light on the pastoral situation.


Birmingham (73,000)

            The figure reported to the CBC was 67,566, which the PRC accepted. No figure was published in the Birmingham DD for 2014. The 73,000 could include late returns or estimates, but its rounded character raises questions.


Clifton (29,026)

            The same figure was reported to the CBC, and published in the Clifton DD. But Mass attendances for seven parishes were missing. The PRC’s addition of estimates for these raised the total to 30,708.



Hexham & Newcastle (38,831)

            The diocese had reported 36,730 to the CBC, and published a total of 37,239 in its Calendar for 2014. One parish return was missing in the Calendar list. The PRC estimate for that resulted in a revised estimate of 37,389. We can offer no explanation for the CD’s 38,831.


Portsmouth (31,644)

            The diocese reported 33,474 to the CBC, which the PRC accepted.


Southwark (89,139)

            The same figure was sent to the CBC. But the Southwark DD reported 92,105, which the PRC accepted.


Baptisms (up to 7 years)

            The CBC collects figures for three age groups: under one, 1-7 and 7 & over (which includes all adult baptisms). The revised PRC summary table gives the totals for the three age-groups combined, but the CD data is for 0-7 only.

            One diocese failed to report its 0-7 total to the CD, but if the revised PRC estimate is included in its place the CD total becomes 62,669. The revised PRC total for 0-7s is quite close, 62,184, but there are significant differences for six dioceses.


Westminster (8,319)

            The figure sent to the CBC was 9,062, but the diocesan YB recorded 10,113 baptisms, which the PRC accepted as the all-ages total. Within this the PRC estimated that 9,350 were age 0-7 years. We cannot explain the discrepancies.


Brentwood (3,564)

The same figure was published in the Brentwood DD. The diocese reported 3,180 to the CBC, which the PRC accepted. The discrepancy is due to the mis-inclusion of baptisms of those age seven & over in both the CD and the DD figures.


Leeds (2,880)

            The same figures was published in the Leeds DD. The figure reported to the CBC was 2,673. The discrepancy is, again, due to the mis-inclusion of the seven & overs.


Nottingham (2,179)

            The same figure was published in the diocesan YB, but again the figures mis- include the baptisms of persons age seven & over. The PRC accepted the CBC figure of 1,877.


Plymouth (1,300)

            The Plymouth YB had published the same figure, in its 2013 edition, for the previous year, 2011, rejected by the PRC in favour of the figure sent by the diocese for 2011. The figure published in the YB for 2014, 871, is very close to that sent to the CBC for 2012, 869, which the PRC accepted. We can offer no explanation for the massively inflated 1,300 in the 2013 YB, nor for its reappearance in the CD for 2014.


Portsmouth (2,536)

            No 2012 figure is reported in the 2014 DD. The 0-7 total reported by the diocese to the CBC was 2,309, which the PRC accepted. Most of the discrepancy is due to the mis-inclusion of the 7 & over baptisms.


            These figures have been distorted in recent years by the collection of figures for marriages prepared in England & Wales but celebrated overseas. Some dioceses have included these in their DD/YB totals and/or figures sent to the CD.

            All 22 dioceses sent a marriages figure to the CD for 2014. The total of marriages there is 9,775. The revised PRC total is very close, 9,874. But, as ever, there are considerable differences between the individual diocesan figures now published in the CD and the revised figures of the PRC.


Birmingham (973)

            The Birmingham DD published the same figure. The diocese reported 952 to the CBC. The PRC accepted the DD figure as probably including returns missing when the dioceses sent its summary to the CBC.


Clifton (74)

            The diocese reported 373 to the CBC, which the PRC accepted. We can offer no explanation for the huge difference.


Hallam (152)

            The diocese reported 140 to the CBC, which the PRC accepted. The difference is due to the inclusion of the twelve ‘marriages prepared in the parish but where the marriage itself takes place overseas’.


Leeds (546)

            The PRC accepted the figure sent to the CBC, 400. The 146 difference is again due to the inclusion of overseas marriages prepared in the diocese.


Middlesbrough (244)

            The PRC accepted the figure sent to the CBC, 221. The extra 23 were, again, marriages prepared in the diocese that took place overseas.


Plymouth (233)

The Plymouth YB gave a total of 254. The PRC accepted the total of 198 sent to the CBC. The difference seems to be due to the inclusion of some of the overseas marriages.


Wrexham (83)

            The diocese reported 84 marriages to the CBC. The Wales YB published a total of 108. The PRC deducted the ten overseas marriages and revised its total to 98.



            Figures for receptions into full communion were sent to the CD by all dioceses, total 5,119. This is fairly close to the PRC revised total of 5,180. But comparisons at diocesan level reveal huge differences.


Birmingham (481)

            The total reported to the CBC, which the PRC accepted, was 449.


Hexham & Newcastle (410)

`           The total reported to the CBC was 389, which the PRC accepted.


Menevia (76)

            This was also the figure published in the Wales YB, but the total reported to the CBC was 38, which the PRC accepted. The explanation is that the CD and Wales YB figure include not only receptions into full communion of adults already baptised but also baptisms of persons age 7 & over, which just happened to be 38 in 2012.


Nottingham (931)

            This huge figure is also published in the diocesan YB. It represents 18.2% of the national total. The total reported to the CBC, which the PRC accepted, was 277. We have asked twice for an explanation of the discrepancy.


Plymouth (159)

The diocese reported 84 to the CBC, also published in its YB, which the PRC accepted. The difference is explained, once again, by the inclusion in the CD figure of baptisms of ‘persons aged over 7 years’ as well as receptions into full communion of adults already baptised.


Future PRC publications on pastoral & demographic statistics

This blog has not been concerned with analysis of or commentary on the implications of the statistics now reinstated in the CD, but only with assessment of their quality as statistics. The PRC analysis and commentary, Report to parishes on the pastoral & demographic statistics of the Catholic Church in England & Wales, 2001-2012, will be published as soon as it has been completed. It will give some of the detailed statistics for 2001, 2011 and 2012 that have been revised by the PRC, some analytical data, and a brief commentary. It will be followed by the publication, in two parts, of the PRC’s revision of the detailed pastoral and demographic statistics for each of the years 2001-2012. The first part will give the detailed figures themselves, without analysis or commentary. The second part will give a very detailed account of the methodology used to revise these statistics, and the sources used to do so. These two will be followed by the Supplement, 2001-12, to Vol. I of the PRC’s Digest of Statistics of the Catholic community of England & Wales, 1958-2005. This will contain some analytical material, but no commentary.


AECWS 21.9.14

Anthony Spencer